Lying in the centre of South Australia is the stark wilderness and timeless landscape of Lake Eyre. This extensive "salt sink" has only filled to capacity three times in the past 150 years. When Lake Eyre does fill, it becomes Australia's largest lake, teeming with wildlife. This is a spectacle not to be missed, and Giaan Rooney was lucky enough to witness this natural phenomenon.
The Lake Eyre Basin covers one-sixth of the continent and cradles much Indigenous and non-Indigenous culture and history. Lake Eyre is 280km long and 85km wide about the same size as the Netherlands. It is made up of large parts of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, with a small slice of New South Wales thrown in.
Thanks to run-off from the recent Queensland floods travelling more than 1500km south, the lake is filling, once again. In 2004, it was half-full so now is a special time. The level is expected to continue to rise and should peak around August this year, with the water starting to recede during September.
Established in 1990, Wrightsair has a fleet of Cessna 172s, 207s, 210s and an Australian-made GA8 Airvan. the airline's pilots are highly experienced in outback flying and specialise in scenic flights, Aboriginal art tours and charters from William Creek and Coober Pedy.
The 1.2 million square kilometre basin river system is breathtaking from the air, even more incredible when you realise you are in the driest part of the driest state on the driest continent on earth.
When the lake is up to 80 percent full, 85 bird varieties in their millions appear and the colours and patterns of the lake are accentuated.
Before departing you will see a video telling of the history of Lake Eyre then you're ready to take off. The plane flies low so passengers see islands, the shoreline and birds, and as you climb, you will see just how enormous the lake is.
It's just as exciting when there's no water in the lake it's so white and shimmering you could be flying over Antarctica, so if you can't get there while it's wet, it's just as fascinating when the region is dry.
Giaan visited William Creek, the closest town to Lake Eyre. It has a population you can count on two hands. It's on the world's largest working cattle station, the 24,000 square kilometre Anna Creek Station
, which is part of the Sidney Kidman
empire. Each April, the town hosts the William Creek races.
Whether you arrive by plane or road, the first place to stop is the famous pub. It's along the Oodnadatta Track, halfway between Oodnadatta and Marree. It was built in 1887 to service The Ghan railway line between Alice Springs and Adelaide.
The timber and corrugated-iron building is adorned with business cards, hand-scrawled notes and all sorts of memorabilia left by visitors from around the globe. It provides drinks and refreshments for travellers, and accommodation is available if you wish to stay on in the town. There's a campground and demountables with twin-share rooms. It's basic, but it will fulfil all your needs.
Across the road is a little museum established by the William Creek Progress Association and the owners of the William Creek Store.
From the pub, it's about an hour's bumpy and dusty drive for your first glimpse of the lake. It's definitely four-wheel drive country and should not be attempted in anything less. Giaan said it was like looking at a mirage or a mighty ocean and it was difficult to comprehend the enormity of the lake. You can't get really close by road, and the other way to take it all in is, of course, by air.